AS Zimbabweans plod through the tangled mess of economic and social problems towards the end of yet another annus horribilis — a year of disaster — with President Robert Mugabe (soon to be 93) still frantically hanging onto power by his fingernails amid a sinking economy, the source of the crisis remains the same: leadership failure.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The trouble with Zimbabwe in short is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.
To paraphrase in the local context African literary guru, Chinua Achebe, in his seminal book The Trouble with Nigeria, there is basically nothing wrong with Zimbabwean people or their character. There is nothing wrong at all with Zimbabwean land, weather, water or air.
In fact, Zimbabwe does have a lot going for it. By any measure, the country is rich with vast natural resources. It has more than 40 different types of metals and minerals. For its size and population, the country is too rich to be poor.
The Great Dyke on its own is a unique belt of mineral deposits. A linear geological feature which should be a corridor of development and a showcase of the country’s economic progress and prosperity, it trends nearly north-south through the heart of the country as shown by satellite images.
It consists of a band of short, narrow ridges and hills spanning approximately 550 kilometres.
The ridge contains huge deposits of gold, chrome, iron ore, nickel, copper, vanadium, lithium, tin, antimony, tungsten, corundum, limestone, coal, asbestos, diamonds and platinum group metals, among others.
Nearly every district — not province — in Zimbabwe has one form of mineral or another even if exploration has not been done extensively and the commercial viability of some of the minerals is not known.
Actually, even if it’s the 61st biggest country in the world — slightly bigger than Japan by geographical surface area though below an average African country by size — it has the second largest platinum reserves in the world after South Africa.
The country also has big tracts of fertile soils or farmland, massive fauna and flora. The biota is amazing.
Even if the rains are erratic, the country borders a perennial river, the Zambezi, which hosts one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, the Kariba Dam. There is a lot of water in the river to supply the landlocked country.
When Mugabe came to power in 1980 after 90 years of British colonial rule, Zimbabwe was the most industrialised country in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa. Its currency was stronger than the United States dollar and was thus considered a jewel in the African crown.
Yet the country is now practically a failed state or poverty-stricken mess where, to quote Achebe, ethnicity, depending on the agenda, is embraced as a friend, rejected as an enemy, or smuggled in via the backdoor as a necessity by crude political leaders and their equally unscrupulous supporters.
This toxic cocktail of evil is aggravated by the barbaric politics of coercion, brutality and fear, impunity, patronage, mediocrity, social injustices and corruption.
Corrupt and incompetent cronies are appointed to run public affairs, inevitably with disastrous consequences. Ignominious deeds are now even encouraged, and despicables looked upon in society as role models or living proofs of prosperity.
Despite all this, Zimbabwe deserves better. Because of its resource base — both natural and human capital — and the potential to become Africa’s Singapore — it’s important in its own right. It also has the continent’s most literate, hard-working and enterprising population.
Besides, it can feed the whole region if its agricultural sector, once the mainstay of the economy, is resuscitated. Currently almost half its population faces starvation.
However, unless the country fixes its broken politics and leadership failures, it will remain an economic backwater reeling from repression and poverty. The trouble with Zimbabwe is a not lack of resources or the West, but its corrupt, inept and hopeless leaders.